MR Outline: 03/13

‘Outlines’ set out the ‘concern’ to which a Monitoring Review relates, describe the issues to be explored in the Review, the geographic coverage of the Review, a broad timetable, and the broad methodology that we expect to follow in conducting the Review. Outlines are prepared before the main work on a Review is undertaken. They serve both as a guide for the team doing the research and as an indication of work in hand for others who might wish to make a contribution to the Review.

The concern

This Review addresses the concern that the practice of issuing News Releases alongside Statistical Bulletins might detract from, rather than supplement, users’ understanding and interpretation of the statistics. The Authority is specifically concerned that News Releases:

  • may distract attention from the considered comment in the Statistical Bulletin; and
  • may, in some cases, inadvertently present a different interpretation of the statistics from that in the Bulletin, either because of the selection of the headline or the text itself.

The Review will consider these points and comment on the value of such free-standing News Releases in the context of the Authority’s policy on the inclusion of helpful commentary in the Statistical Bulletins themselves.

Background

There is a user need for a clear, easily understandable, synopsis of the key messages in a Statistical Bulletin. These messages are made available as key points in a Statistics Bulletin and are often conveyed to the media in the form of News Releases. The content of these Releases can vary – in some cases they expand on wider issues identified in the Statistical Bulletin, whilst in others they simply repeat the key points in the Bulletin.

The Office for National Statistics publishes around 400 Statistical Bulletins each year on its website, summarising and drawing attention to the release of new official statistics. ONS also publishes News Releases to accompany around 60 of these Bulletins. ONS has a substantial programme of work in place to improve these Bulletins, including clearer explanations of the main points from the statistics and improved commentary. The National Statistician has committed that ONS should, in future, not produce separate statistical News Releases – at a point when the work programme to improve Bulletins has made sufficient progress to make News Releases unnecessary.

The Review relates primarily to the News Releases published by the ONS but the issues are also relevant to a number of other Government departments (OGDs). We understand that for those departments that produce News Releases to accompany Statistical Bulletins, the approach is to produce these for all Bulletins, rather than a selection, differing from the ONS approach.

Relevant aspects of the Code

The scope of the Review covers the following areas within the Code of Practice for Official Statistics :

  • Principle 3 preamble: At all stages in the production, management and dissemination of official statistics, the public interest should prevail over organisational, political or personal interests.
  • Principle 3.1: Issue statistical reports separately from any other statement or comment about the figures and ensure that no statement or comment – based on prior knowledge – is issued to the press or published ahead of the publication of the statistics.
  • Principle 8.2: Prepare and disseminate commentary and analysis that aid interpretation.
  • Principle 8.4: Publicise official statistics in ways that enable users to identify and access information relevant to their needs.
  • Protocol 2 preamble: Statistics reports should be released into the public domain in an orderly manner that promotes public confidence and gives equal access to all, subject to the relevant legislation.
  • Protocol 2.9: Ensure that government statements issued alongside official statistics, and referring to, or based upon, them:
    a) contain a prominent link to the statistical release and clearly refer to the source of the statistics;
    b) are labelled clearly as policy statements (or ministerial statements) and are readily distinguished from a statistical release; and
    c) meet basic professional standards (for example, statistics should be cited accurately, and charts should be drawn in an accurate and impartial way).

Process and Methods

The Authority’s Monitoring and Assessment Team will gather evidence about:

  • the content and approach to the production of News Releases, and the relationship between statistics producers and those producing News Releases;
  • the advantages and disadvantages of producing free-standing News Releases;
  • the criteria applied in determining which Statistical Bulletins are accompanied by a News Release; and
  • the views of users and other stakeholders on the usefulness of News Releases.

The team’s work on this Review will involve:

  • a review of the range of News Releases produced by ONS to identify content and their relationship with the content of Statistical Bulletins;
  • seeking background on the number of Statistical Bulletins and News Releases produced and the resource involved; and
  • establishing the approach taken in a number of other government departments and understanding their views about the practice.

Timetable

We are currently gathering and reviewing evidence, and plan to report to the Authority Board in summer 2013.

Your views

We would welcome your views on any of the issues to be covered in this review. It would be helpful if we could receive your comments by 5 April 2013 if possible but late responses would still be welcome. Please send any comments to: assessment@statistics.gsi.gov.uk.

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